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Part 2 HERE

Battle of Jidballi (continued)

On the right flank No 5 MI Company and the Gadabursi Horse had dismounted and approached the enemy too closely; the dervishes rushed them, causing confusion and dispersing the Gadabursi Horse, whose mounts, along with those of No 5 MI Company, bolted.  During this action Lieutenant Clement Leslie Smith, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and No 5 (Somali) Mounted Infantry Company, displayed gallantry that earned him a Victoria Cross with this citation:

At the commencement of the fight at Jidballi, on 10th January, 1904, the enemy made a very sudden and determined rush on the 5th Somali Mounted Infantry, from under cover of bushes close at hand. They weresupported by rifle fire, advanced very rapidly and got right amongst our men.

Lieutenant Smith, Somali Mounted Infantry,and Lieutenant J. K. Welland, M.D., Royal Army Medical Corps, went out to the aid of Hospital Assistant Rahamat Ali, who was wounded, and endeavoured to bring him out of action on a horse, but the rapidity of the enemy's advance rendered this impossible, and the Hospital Assistant was killed. Lieutenant Smith then did all that any man could do to bring out Doctor Welland, helping him to mount a horse, and, when that was shot, a mule. This also was hit, and Doctor Welland was speared by the enemy.  Lieutenant Smith stood by Doctor Welland to the end, and when that Officer was killed, was within a few paces of him, endeavouring to keep off the enemy with his revolver. At that time the dervishes appeared to be all round him, and it was marvellous that he escaped with his life.    

The dervishes attacking the square attempted to charge the left face and then the front and right faces, but both charges were stopped in their tracks by rifle fire and by very effective Maxim gun fire from the corners of the square.  Armourer Sergeant A. Gibb, firing from the right front corner, was seen to drop nine dervishes with one burst of fire.  This defensive fire kept the attackers at a distance of 350 metres from the square.  After 20 minutes of fighting the dervish resolve suddenly broke and a rapid retreat began which turned into a rout.  The Mounted Infantry companies were ordered to pursue.  The two British guns engaged the fleeing enemy up to a range of 2,000 metres when fire was checked to avoid hitting the MI.

The British mounted companies pursued the enemy for 30 kilometres, shooting down all that they caught up with, until lack of ammunition and exhaustion of mounts led to Kenna halting his men and returning to the infantry.  The body count around the square was 668 dead dervishes and it was estimated that Kenna’s men had shot down a greater number.  The dervish strength before the battle was believed to number up to 8,000 men.  

Apart from Lieutenant J.R. Welland, Royal Army Medical Corps, two other British officers were killed during the action: 

-Lieutenant C.H. Bowden-Smith, Hampshire Regiment, was killed during the fighting. 
-The Remount commander, Captain Honourable T. Lister, 10th Hussars, was employed as Kenna’s Orderly Officer during the action and he was reported missing whilst delivering a message; his dead body was recovered the following day.

Seven British officers were severely wounded: 

-Major F.B. Young, Cheshire Regiment, commanding 2nd KAR;
-Brevet-Major G.T.M. Bridges, RA, commanding the Tribal Horse;
-Captain G.C. Shakerley, KRRC, commanding No I Corps MI;
-Captain E.H. Llewellyn, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, Adjutant of 2nd KAR; Lieutenant H.H.R. White, KRRC, Adjutant of No I Corps MI;
-Lieutenant H.E. Reinhold, 27th Punjabis;
-Lieutenant A.E. Andrews, Hampshire Regiment.

Two other officers were slightly wounded:

-Lieutenant Colonel G.T. Forestier-Walker, RA, AQMG-I;
-Captain G.R. Breading, Worcestershire Regiment, commanding the company of the 3rd KAR.

Six Indian soldiers (including one gunner), 10 Somali Levies and 1 Indian Follower were killed.  Five British rank and file, 2 Indian officers, 13 Indian and African rank and file, 7 Somali Levies and 2 Followers were wounded.  Egerton’s order to the square to fire from the prone or kneeling positions had saved many infantrymen and sappers from death or wounds.  After the battle Egerton bivouacked his force at a well 3 kilometres beyond Jidballi.  The Sappers & Miners were tasked with clearing the Jidballi wells that were now clogged with dead dervishes, their beasts and battlefield refuse.

Above: Indian Camel Transport

Post-Jidballi land operations

Egerton’s force, tied to its slow-moving supply chain, could not now get ahead of the Mullah who moved his followers and their herds northwards from the eastern Nogal through the Anane Pass towards Jidali, south of Las Khorai on the coast of the Protectorate.  Manning’s brigade sealed off routes to the south, exhausting itself in the process as the climate was at its hottest.  British camel losses seriously increased during this dry, hot phase.  

Fasken’s brigade followed the Mullah and on 19th March came across a dervish raiding party from which it captured 1,200 sheep.  The mutton was a welcome addition to the troops’ rations; supply convoys could not move fast enough to keep up with the brigade, and officers were shooting game for the pot.  The raiders fled from Fasken right into the hands of Shakerley’s No 1 (British) MI Company and Beresford’s Tribal Horse (except for 100 mounted men the Gadabursi Horse had been disbanded since its disintegration at Jidballi).  With the loss of only one mount the British and Somali horsemen killed 53 dervishes and captured 4 prisoners, 27 camels, 23 rifles and 500 rounds of ammunition.

Fasken then marched his brigade to Jidali hoping to trap the Mullah between himself and the Mijertain tribal forces to the east, but the Mijertein Sultan Osman Mahmud, who had previously promised to provide military support against the Mullah, now shied away from the reality and the Mullah moved into Italian territory.  British forces were not allowed to follow until Italian permission had been obtained and this took around 10 days to organize.  Meanwhile the Mullah was obtaining resupplies of weapons and ammunition from the Mijertain.  To support the British ground troops the Royal Navy moved an infantry company to seize and garrison the port of Las Khorai; the garrison there was commanded by Captain P.G. Grant RE who was assisted by Lieutenant W.H. Evans RE, an intelligence officer who was adept at working with the coastal Somali chiefs.  

Egerton’s last move with his ground forces was to send Kenna’s mounted infantry after the dervishes, but rain was about to fall giving the Mullah total freedom of movement through the use of seasonal water holes that were too numerous for the British to control.  Despite the fact that the Mullah had problems of his own including the demoralisation of his followers after Jidballi and losses in his herds during the rushed move north from the Nogal, Egerton accepted that his own troops and mounts were exhausted and that it would be impossible to seize or kill the Mullah, so in April he obtained War Office permission to discontinue the pursuit. 

The British landing at Illig  

Dervish prisoners and deserters stated that the Mullah was heading for Illig, a port in Italian Somaliland that dervishes were defending.  Italian permission and cooperation was obtained for an amphibious assault to be made on Illig with the aim of seizing it to deny the port to the Mullah.  The Hampshire Regiment provided 150 officers and men under Major S.C.F. Jackson DSO, to land alongside the Royal Navy on this operation.  

A naval squadron under Rear Admiral G.L. Atkinson-Willes, Naval Commander in Chief East Indies Station, left Berbera in mid-April.  The ships in the squadron were the second-class cruisers HMS Hyacinth (flag-ship) and HMS Fox, and the third-class cruiser HMS Mohawk.  The men of the Hampshire Regiment were distributed to all three ships along with a small engineer field park under Captain W.B. Lesslie RE.  Captain R.G. Munn, 36th Sikhs, Indian Army the military staff officer to Atkinson-Willes, and two intelligence officers, Major F. Cunliffe Owen, RA, and Lieutenant W.H. Evans RE also joined the squadron, as did a Special Service Officer of the Somaliland Field Force, Lieutenant G.T. Seabroke, East Lancashire Regiment.   

At 1730 hours on 20th April Mohawk anchored off the mouth of the Gallule River that was nearly 6 kilometres miles west of Illig.  Four and a half hours later Hyacinth and Fox joined Mohawk.  Cliffs rose to 45 metres above sea-level here but the dry bed of the Gallule River offered a route up onto the plateau behind the cliffs.  Next morning at 0430 hours Mohawk demonstrated off a beach 800 metres north-west of Illig village to draw dervish attention to that location.  Meanwhile an advance party of 100 seamen and marines from Hyacinth with one Maxim gun landed in the Gallule river-mouth.  Four seamen lost rifles during the landing.  This advance party was commanded by Captain Honourable H.L.A. Hood RN (Flag Captain).  By 0525 hours Hood had secured the area of plateau above the landing beach without coming into contact with the enemy.  When the sun came up flag communications were established between the cliff top and the squadron.

Above: The medals of Rear Admiral G L Atkinson-Willes

More men were landed including Admiral Atkinson-Willes who took over command of the operation from the cliff-top.  Two hours later when the landings were complete over 750 officers and men were ashore; surf was high and all men were wet at least up to the waist and often up to the neck.  Major Jackson had 127 of his Hampshires with him, 94 Royal Marine Light Infantry had been landed under Major C.H. Kennedy, Royal Marine Light Infantry, and the RN officers and seamen totalled 530.  A line about 1300 yards long was formed with the Hampshires and one Maxim gun on the left, the marines in the centre, and the seamen and three Maxim guns under Hood on the right.  Hood’s task was to envelop the enemy left flank as well as to attack fortifications he encountered.  At about 0740 hours the advance on Illig began, controlled from the left of the line.   

The attack on the Illig forts

The British troops advanced for an hour over open ground, the men carrying the Maxims and the ammunition boxes having to march hard and strenuously in order to keep up.  At 0800 hours the Illig cliff-top fortifications came in sight.  Double stone walls up to 2 metres thick and 3 metres high protected two stone towers that had three floors of firing slits.  The defensive works had been built to allow dervishes to move from the cliff top to the beach below in concealment from naval gunfire.  On the beach by the village were a fortification and a loop-holed wall facing the sea, and in the cliffs there were numerous caves.  

On seeing the British troops the dervishes in the towers blew conch horns and shouted defiance whilst their womenfolk and children ran to safety further along the cliffs.  The seamen enveloped the enemy left flank to try to cut off an escape route and the Hampshires used depressions in the plateau to get to within 75 metres of the outer stone wall.  As the Hampshires appeared out of the ground the dervishes fired at them with rifles and an old cannon loaded with stones.  The British line now surged forward in rushes, the Hampshires getting up to the outer wall.  The seamen had more open ground to cover and they took casualties as they ran forward.

The Maxim gunners provided effective covering fire that the dervishes could not match; however the three naval guns soon jammed and the gunners joined in the fight as riflemen.  Men scrambled over the two walls or entered through embrasures, and reached the first fort to find the door firmly shuttered from the inside.  5334 Lance Sergeant Thomas Gawn, 1st Battalion The Hampshire Regiment, received a Distinguished Conduct Medal for axing down the door whilst under heavy fire from dervishes firing through the loopholes above.  Lance Sergeant Gawn then entered through the broken door, fought his way up the fort steps and disarmed three dervishes on the top floor, one of whom had just fatally wounded a seaman below.  174868 (Gunnery Instructor) Petty Officer 1st Class John Murphy RN, HMS Hyacinth, was also involved in axing the door down under heavy fire and he was later awarded a Conspicuous Gallantry Medal.  When they saw that the first fort was lost the dervishes evacuated the second fort that was 100 metres further along, and a general enemy withdrawal began down to the caves in the cliffs and along the top of the cliffs.  

Major Jackson and his Hampshires were ordered to hold the two forts whilst the marines and seamen pursued the retreating enemy.  Some of the dervishes decided to sell their lives dearly and they sniped effectively from caves.  Midshipman Arthur Gerald Onslow RN, HMS Hyacinth, received a Conspicuous Service Cross, and 19148 Corporal John Edward Flowers, Royal Marine Light Infantry and HMS Fox, received a Conspicuous Gallantry Medal for gallantry displayed when they attacked a cave containing three enemy snipers.  The cave was concealed by a hut. Captain Hood led the charge into the cave, fighting with his sword and revolver whilst Onslow and Flowers used sword, rifle and bayonet; all three dervishes were killed.  Captain Honourable Horace Lambert Alexander Hood RN was later awarded a Companionship of the Distinguished Service Order.  Meanwhile gunfire from the ships offshore was fired at groups of fleeing dervishes when that fire did not endanger the British troops ashore.  The Italian naval sloop Volturno had now joined the British squadron.  

When Illig was secure the Hampshires were left as a garrison in a temporary fortification on the beach, along with 50 seamen and marines and the 4 naval Maxims and their crews.  The remainder of the naval brigade returned to their ships.  During the night ships’ searchlights played on the cliff tops and ships’ gunners fired at any dervish movement that was observed.  The dead dervishes found on the battlefield numbered 58, 12 others were found wounded and several prisoners were taken and 33 rifles seized.  Also seized were 3,000 hides sent to Illig by the Mullah to be used as payment for arms and ammunition, as traders from French-held Djibouti ran rifles to Illig in dhows and fishing vessels.  In the fight for Illig British casualties were 3 seamen killed, 3 seamen and 1 marine severely wounded, 2 seamen less than severely wounded and 5 seamen lightly wounded.  

On the following day the dead were buried 16 kilometres out at sea and large work parties started demolishing the Illig fortifications.  The British officers at Illig reported their amazement at the strength of the fortifications there; apparently the Mullah’s chief adviser when building the strong forts, walls and concealed walkways was a Somali named Haji Sudi, who had previously been employed as a naval interpreter aboard HMS Ranger.  Eleven surf boats found on the Illig beach were destroyed.    The demolitions were completed by 25th April and Illig was then abandoned as the monsoon swell was making resupply over the beaches too difficult.  Admiral Atkinson-Willes despatched an intelligence officer in HMS Fox with a letter to Sultan Ali Yusuf of Obbia, asking him if Illig could be re-populated with the Esa Mahmoud tribe who had resided there before the Mullah occupied the location.  The squadron then sailed to Berbera with those villagers who had requested asylum.  Fifty other villagers went inland to find relatives, they were given 3 days’ rations; whilst 50 others refused to move from Illig and they were left there with one week’s rations.  

A silver statuette (see above) was later presented by the military officers of the Illig Expedition to their comrades of the East Indies Squadron.  The statuette is of a British Army rifleman dressed and equipped for the expedition.  

To continue to the final stages of the Campagn and the Awards and Medals please go HERE